09 June 2017

Rambler Reviews: The Chapel on the Cliffs

Full disclosure: I was asked by the author of this adventure to look at a demo copy of it prior to the launch of this Kickstarter campaign, which I did. If I hadn't liked what I saw then I likely wouldn't have written anything at all about it, so what follows are my honest opinions.

Let me just start by saying that I like this adventure, and I like it for a few different reasons. First, let's talk about production value. Aside from being a good adventure, it's also just nice to look at. There are several nicely done original illustrations and maps, and the layout is professional, with multiple side bars and ample cross-referencing. At 37 pages the adventure is a bit thin, but at only about $11 for a hard copy via the Kickstarter ($6 for the PDF) this isn't really that big of a deal. In fact, having an adventure that you can read and have ready on short notice - like when you spent all week not working on your campaign and the game is tomorrow - can actually be a positive thing.

And that brings me to the first thing about the actual adventure that I like: portability. Now, obviously I'm not talking about how easy it is to carry the module around (though I'm sure it is), I'm talking about how easy it would be to drop this adventure into any campaign world. The adventure itself could take place along any stretch of coast where there is a decent sized port town and room for an abandoned village several miles away from that town. The adventure provides details for a local religion and an ancient civilization whose remains lie in a burial mound near the cursed village, but the specific details provided are not integral to the adventure and could easily be replaced by whatever religion or civilization you wanted to insert.

Another thing I quite like about the adventure is that a lot of it takes place in the great outdoors. Since the main adventure location is an abandoned village there is more of an open approach to exploration, and outdoorsy types like rangers and druids have more of a chance to shine than they often do in a typical dungeon crawl. There are still several interior locations that will need to be explored as well, but the overall openness of this adventure is still a breath of fresh air. See what I did there?

I don't want to go in to a whole lot of detail about the adventure itself, because spoilers, but I will say that there is a strong investigation component to the adventure. I like this a lot, and I like the fact that brute force is not a viable solution. The party will simply not be successful if they try to tackle the problem by throwing their hit points and armor class at it. Instead, they will have to gather clues to learn both what caused the curse and how they can reverse it. And like in any good mystery there are multiple threads of investigation the party can follow (including a few red herrings), as well as multiple solutions to the main problem. Unraveling the mystery might be more challenging for some and less so for others, but by visiting multiple locations and spending enough time in and around the ruins of Kennmouth even the densest of adventurers (read: players) should be able to hit upon a way to lift the curse and successfully complete the adventure.

I should warn you though, if you decide to run this adventure and you have players who aren't use to the idea of running away from a fight then you may have a hard time not killing them. The party will inevitably find themselves in a situation or two where discretion is indeed the better part of valor. This should be obvious, but players are dumb stubborn sometimes and might need some brow beating coaxing. When they do decide to turn tail and run, the adventure has it's own set of rules for how to handle the ensuing chase, as well as rules for what happens if the party tries to fortify an abandoned building against the army of undead chasing them down. This is where my only (minor) criticisms of the adventure lie. I found the chase and siege rules as presented to be a bit fiddly and potentially anti-climactic, and I imagine that most dungeon masters will probably want to tweak them in various ways.  I should mention again though, to be fair, that what I have seen is a demo copy of the adventure, so things could very well change in the final version. But even if these rules didn't change it wouldn't be a deal breaker, and if you like adventures that involve horror, investigation, and hordes of skeletons then I would encourage you to check out The Chapel on the Cliffs.

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